USAA Tips: Cooking for large groups

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Angela Caban

It's that time of year again - time to begin your Thanksgiving dinner planning!

Whether this will be your first time preparing a Thanksgiving dinner or your 10th, nothing is worse than cooking a Thanksgiving dinner and running out of food. Or how about overspending? How many of us would love to be able to cook for a large group of people without the fear of something going wrong? It is important to be prepared and avoid a Thanksgiving disaster. How much food is enough? When should I start preparing my menu? The questions and worries are endless.

There is no exact formula for cooking for a large crowd, and the most important reminder is to consider who your guests are and be prepared. Here are some Thanksgiving tips to help you plan dinner for a large group as well as some do’s and don’ts.

Tips for cooking a large Thanksgiving meal for the first time:

  • The most problematic thing is not examining the time required for a frozen turkey to thaw. Check the instructions based on weight and do the math, or examine the weight and cooking time on the small paper instructions that come with your turkey. If you don’t do this a few days ahead of time, you’ll be quite sorry you didn’t plan ahead of time.

  • Make sure to check all the cavities (the inside) of your turkey. One year I cleared out the whole cavity of the turkey and made gravy with it but forgot to clear out the front cavity (much smaller). I did not know that they hid items in two cavities of a turkey all the time!

  • When planning your menu always take into consideration your favorite recipes that you excel at and have made famous. These are your main strengths, and from there you can branch out to include respectful dishes of guests visiting, but focus on your strengths first or only.

  • To determine how much food to serve for a large group, use a small fist to demonstrate about how much starch or vegetables a single person will eat. I visually estimate and calculate what I will need and then add in four more portions for an event. Better to have enough than run out but you don’t want to overspend either!

  • Chances are there will be leftovers. If there are, it is always easiest to make turkey sandwiches complete with a smattering of cranberry sauce on the bread. This makes a great leftover meal the next day. You can even put a little stuffing in as well.

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Do offer several kinds of stuffing to please different people. There are many kinds like wet stuffing, dry stuffing, cornbread stuffing, sausage stuffing or oyster stuffing. Stuffing is also pretty affordable to make, and is a great filler!

  • Don’t wait until two days before Thanksgiving to begin prepping your items! I often complete all shopping six days before. The sooner you begin, the better prepared you will be. Yams, sweet potatoes and vegetables are great to prep a few days before. There are so many items you can have prepped and ready or cooked off starting at the four day mark; overall, it becomes extremely helpful to have it all done beforehand.

  • If you are cooking for over 20 people, it is best to make your pies four days out and pop them into the refrigerator and then heat or serve room temperature on Thanksgiving Day. I prepare and decorate my cranberry sauces and cranberry jelly servings; next, I cover the sauces with saran wrap and have them ready in the fridge.

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a big endeavor, but you can take most of the stress out of the kitchen by preparing your foods in advance and using these simple tips. Allow yourself the time needed for planning over your menu, organizing your ingredients, and determining which ones you can make ahead of time. Most of all enjoy the food, good company and the traditions of your family.